Livestrong, Sporting KC terminate deal on stadium name
Sporting Kansas City’s groundbreaking naming-rights arrangement with Livestrong, the cancer-fighting charity started by disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong, is history.
The Major League Soccer club confirmed Tuesday night that it would sever ties with Livestrong, which claimed that Sporting KC failed to live up to a financial agreement that was struck between the two organizations in 2012.
The team’s Livestrong Sporting Park stadium, located off Interstate 70 in the Village West shopping area of Kansas City, Kan., will be referred to simply as “Sporting Park.”
According to a report from ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, Livestrong informed Sporting KC this week that it had been paid only $250,000 of its $1 million pledge for 2012.
“This morning we were disappointed to learn Livestrong is utilizing aggressive tactics designed to force us into an unsatisfactory arrangement,” Sporting KC President and CEO Robb Heineman said in a statement. “We willingly admit we were not expecting the foundation to treat a partner in this manner. Even more surprising is that Livestrong would take this action in the midst of a significant transitional phase for their organization.
“Our faith and trust in this partnership have been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with Livestrong, effectively immediately. As a result of this decision, our stadium will now be referred to as Sporting Park. While we are ending this relationship, our support of the fight against cancer will endure. We look forward to introducing new initiatives to assist these efforts in Kansas City.”
The unique relationship’s end comes the same week Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during a record-breaking cycling career highlighted by seven Tour de France titles, which have since been stripped. Armstrong is expected to admit to doping throughout his career during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which was taped Monday and will begin airing Thursday.
“Over the course of the past year, it became clear that Livestrong no longer shared the same spirit of partnership, despite our perseverance to the contrary,” Heineman said in a statement released on the club’s website. “We realized at the time this could be the beginning of a tumultuous period for the foundation. We were patient as they sorted through these issues.
“Despite the distractions, leadership from Livestrong and Sporting Club were actively engaged in discussions to redefine expectations for both parties. Based on assurances from key Livestrong leadership, we believed this ongoing dialogue was very positive.”
The agreement’s dissolution after less than two years prematurely ends one of the most progressive naming-rights deals in professional sports.
Rather than sell its new stadium’s naming rights, Sporting KC announced in March 2011 that the Livestrong charity’s name would adorn the new $200 million soccer-specific stadium when it opened three months later.
“March 8, 2011, was one of the proudest moments in our organization’s history,” Heineman said in a statement.
As part of the agreement, Sporting KC was to funnel as much as $7.5 million over six years to Livestrong, donating a portion of ticket, concession and souvenir sales in an unprecedented partnership.
Armstrong, who was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer in 1996, became an inspiration to millions when he returned to professional cycling. But whispers that he was a cheat also dogged Armstrong throughout his comeback.
Those whispers became a roar in June, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency formally accused Armstrong of doping and trafficking in drugs used for doping.
Two months later, USADA stripped Armstrong of all competitive results prior to Aug. 1, 1998, including all seven of his Tour de France titles, and also banned him from cycling for life.
Cycling’s international body, Union Cycliste Internationale, upheld USADA’s findings and recommendations after the full report — and its more than 1,000 supporting documents and 26 eyewitness testimonies, including 11 from Armstrong’s teammates — was published in early October.
Nike, Anheuser-Busch and 24-Hour Fitness were among the sponsors who immediately ended sponsorship agreements with Armstrong, but at the time, Sporting KC stood by Livestrong.
Heineman said then that Sporting Club would continue to partner with Livestrong and its work to combat cancer, saying “we believe strongly in this mission.”